Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Letter from Batticaloa on Ozanam Children's Home

by Ganesan, March 31, 2007

They said the artillery that was fired from the nearby camp caused too much distress to the children...The guns were fired many times while we were there. The sound of the artillery guns was deafening. They were only 50 yards away! There was a squeezing effect when they were fired. They said more firing was there in the nights...

I feel there is an urgent need to provide some safety for them. A small building with a concrete roof could be put up quickly according to a friend who knows construction. This would be cheaper than building a bunker.

Thank you very much for the concern. I am writing this based on something I saw today.

I am also involved in child protection work here in Batticaloa. Child victims of abuse are usually kept in hospital, police station, or prison until the probation department can work out a plan. this especially so when the abuse is intrafamilial abuse or when the family is not capable of protecting the child. In these instances the child often stays for months in the above places.  

A transit home for such children was started in 2003 with the support of the Finnish government & a local NGO. This is the first such centre in Sri Lanka. Over 200 child victims of abuse have benefited from this. Now with Unicef funding a purpose-built transit home was opened a few weeks ago.  

We also support a residential centre (OZANAM) for mentally disabled children for the last 6 years. We visit monthly to take medication for some of the children there and provide advice on managing problems there. OZANAM was started 25 years ago by nuns here in Batticaloa. It is situated about 6 Km north of Batticaloa in large grounds. There are over 30 kids there.

Part of OZANAM's land was taken over by the army to set up a large camp 13 years ago. Yesterday, sisters from OZANAM suddenly brought 5 of the kids to the transit centre and left them there. They said the artillery that was fired from the nearby camp caused too much distress to the children. Most of the other children were handed over to their parents. Some of these parents were living in tents, displaced due to the current war. So we went there today to see the situation.  

The staff is there. Nuns are there. The guns were fired many times while we were there. The sound of the artillery guns was deafening. They were only 50 yards away! There was a squeezing effect when they were fired. They said more firing was there in the nights. They have sent the children away for the following reasons.  

  1. The children were screaming due to the sound.
  2. Rebels have issued notices asking people to move 1 km away from the major army camps.
  3. The previous day due to alleged return fire by the rebels 8 people died in a village few Km away.  

However, the nuns and the staff are staying on as they are scared the army would take over the whole area as they have done with half of their land many years ago. Then they would have no place to go back to when the hostilities ended. They have asked the army to move the heavy artillery away from the current position which is very close to OZANAM to the other end. But the army has refused. They have told they had orders to place the guns there close to the OZANAM end. There is no bunker in the compound. There isn't even one structure which has a concrete roof. All the buildings are one storey only, and the roofs are tiled. There is no protection at all for the nuns and the staff, but they are bravely staying on to protect the building from being taken over by the army.  Even though I suggested and offered some alternative places to stay temporarily, they refused.  

I feel there is an urgent need to provide some safety for them. A small building with a concrete roof could be put up quickly according to a friend who knows construction. This would be cheaper than building a bunker. Furthermore, it will be difficult to move some of the children with cerebral palsy down steps in a hurry. A building 20 feet by 15 feet with a concrete roof would cost around US$30,000. Apparently this can be put up within 2 - 3 weeks.  

I am attaching some photos I took today there; the all female staff and 2 of the nuns who are staying on.  

I would be grateful if any of you know of any organization that could help to meet this urgent need.

Thanking you,